As government restrictions lifted towards the middle of the summer, people really needed to get out and do something “fun” with their Alfas. We had been talking of organising a drive out with a bit of a twist at the end of last year and something the families of all the members could enjoy. The Weald of Kent, an area of outstanding natural beauty, was the perfect candidate. It was in easy reach of all members from our very large membership area of Kent and East Sussex. It encompassed great driving roads, superb history and fantastic countryside. Who could possibly resist this? Great roads, a historic steam train ride and the opportunity to visit a castle? The only thing that could not be controlled was the weather – but more of the rain and tornados later!
Over 65 members and their families took part and there were thirty-one Alfas including a support vehicle provided by Graeme Andrews. The Weald of Kent Golf Course and Hotel very kindly provided us with reserved parking for our Alfas, which included what must have been the whole range of Alfa production from the early 1960’s right through to the present day. The only model that was missing was a Tonale!
Once everyone had gathered, it was time for the briefing. Having had time to grab a very necessary bacon roll and a cup of coffee, which the hotel had very kindly agreed to provide for us at the start of the Driveout, then we were all set to get going. That’s when it started pouring and completely turned the ink on my paperwork to the equivalent of a random work of soggy unreadable modern artwork. The briefing had to be done mostly from memory and I don’t think anyone noticed. Each Alfa was set off at one minute intervals into the ever darkening clouds and wet and windy countryside. Typical of the calibre the section members – everyone was still smiling!
The first stop was to all Saint’s Church at Biddenden and a particularly beautiful example set in the heart of the Kent countryside. Biddenden still remains as a lovely example of a rural Kent village. You can find out more about this church and the surrounding area in the following You-Tube video at A Look Around All Saints Church in Biddenden, Kent. – YouTube I found out that some villagers had been burnt at the stake in the reformation so I didn’t hang around too long doing the recce either.
The next stop was at Cranbrook museum, and you can find their website here Cranbrook Museum – Cranbrook Museum, a particularly fantastic local museum which agreed to open specifically for AROCKES. The museum is run entirely by public donation and they really appreciated what the members put in the donations box. Staff even provided our members with tea, coffee and biscuits – which was really welcome bearing in mind the weather. Cranbrook museum is hard to find but if you park in the free public car park at Jockey Lane it is right opposite. It is a fantastic local museum on three floors. I did warn members that there would be obstacles in their way as they progressed around the course. Graham Duplock found himself, completely by mistake, exhibiting his GTV in a vintage car show on The Green at the end of Jockey lane. He did manage to get out eventually and I can confirm he did make it to the finish line.
The next part of the course was navigating to Goudhurst Pond. Goudhurst is a really nice busy Kent village with a picture-box pond right at the central crossroads. However, today was far from being picture-box, weather-wise, and the report back from Jeff Kaby – our Secretary – was that even the ducks were sheltering from the rain!
By now the wet weather had really set in and there were news reports that four tornados in various parts of Kent had nearly touched down and I have used news media- of photos taken by members of the public to prove we weren’t joking either!
Not being able to outrun the weather or the torrential rain, members embraced the experience and pointed their Alfas toward Frant on the E. Sussex borders. Frant is yet another beautiful village and you could easily spend more than the ten minutes of allotted time there to gather answers for the clues from the church and the folly, which are at opposing ends of the High Street. Both venues did their best to keep the elusive answers to themselves.
From Frant there was a good drive eastwards back towards Kent and on to Wadhurst. There, at Castle Classic Car Sales Classic & Sports Car Specialists | Castle Classic Cars ,members were tested on their knowledge of a Triumph Vitese and all enjoyed homemade lemonade from a very enterprising young family member of the owners, who incidentally was saving up for a guitar. I spoke to the owner after the event and learnt that a total of £89 had been kindly donated to this young lad via his lemonade stall. The owners enjoyed having everyone there as well. I thanked the owner a couple of days later for providing this opportunity, as normally the showroom would be closed on a Sunday – but didn’t that MG look good! Sadly due to the weather the two prestige Alfas (both for sale) that were due to be displayed could not make it. That said, a big thank you went out to Castle Classic Car Sales. The generosity of people is always a constant surprise and this business and AROCKES members were no exception.
When I planned the next venue to visit, and to aesthetically confuse members, it had to be the eclectic Mausoleum of “Mad Jack” John Fuller at St Thomas A Beckett Church at Brightling. Now, this picture was taken earlier in the year and on one of the rare occasions when it was sunny this summer. I think you will agree that the juxtaposition was – at least – interesting!
It is rumoured that “Mad Jack” was buried standing up drinking a glass of claret, but I must admit he was sadly absent when I looked through the well barred and riveted heavy steel entrance door. Local legend, at least from one of the local cottage owners leaning over his garden gate, was that the Steel door was to keep “Mad Jack” in … rather than the public out.
Interestingly, Jack Fuller, in 1828, bought Bodiam Castle for the grand old price of 3,000 guineas to save it from destruction. We will hear more about Bodiam later in this story.
The penultimate stop off for clues was The Bull Inn at Rolvenden which, not surprisingly after the nature of the last stop-off, had a full-sized statue of a bull on the roof. The landlord, who is a great chap, was very accommodating. The pub I would also recommend and a few members were spotted partaking of a bit of light refreshment there. Food was good too. You can find the elusive bull on the following link! THE BULL INN ROLVENDEN – Country pub in heart of Rolvenden village
Finally, at Tenterden, members arrived at the Kent and East Sussex Railway (K&ESR) where they could display their Alfas to the public. At the last minute, the local land owner lent us his hard standing directly adjacent to the station due to the amount of rain that had really softened the grass on the display area. I, for one, did not really want to gently prize out John Third’s 4C should it get stuck up to the axles, which in any case are only a few inches off the ground.
K&ESR is modelled on an old fashioned steam branch line. Not only was the station itself, the working steam trains and the whole ambiance totally absorbing, but members were taking a steam train eleven miles to Bodiam Castle where they were to gather answers to even more clues. They were not going to get off at all lightly on this part of the drive out as they had to gather clues en-route. I have to mention here Keith Masters, who arrived purely to lend a hand, and I was grateful to him for the help provided, so it would be rude not to show you his 76 GTJ (incidentally fitted with a Twinspark engine.
I think by the return trip from Bodiam Castle most people were quite tired as they’d had a really long day driving, navigating the course and generally keeping their cars on the road due to the weather and it was a real pleasure to enjoy some skilfully restored Victorian rolling stock on the steam ride back. Some even managed first class, and quite rightly so, as all members were first class participants in this event.
With all events of this nature there has to be a prize giving at least for getting all the questions right. I had previously had lots of conversation with Nick Day from Chris Knott insurance and I do remember discussing this at Southern Alfa Day this year where he decided that he would go that one bit further for an event of this type and provide two years free AROC membership for the winner and one year’s membership for the runner up. That, again, was another great piece of generosity that was truly yet another surprise. A prize was also donated for the best presented Alfa in the display at K&ESR. Once everyone had spent the last few minutes gathering clues around the station I managed to coax them all into the Art Deco cafe at the station to calculate the scores. Doug Field and his family (AKA Doug’s Divas) came in first and scored maximum points to within 10 points of the previously recce’d total, and an exceptional “Well done” to them too! Coming in as runner up was Mike and Angela Dowsett and who claimed one year’s AROC membership.
Now no car display would be complete unless there was a prize for the best presented Alfa in show, and that accolade was judged by Dawn Wills from Chris Knott insurance to Colin Craven’s S1 Alfa Spider.
Well that WAS a long day and I for one did sleep well! If you are an AROC member and part of our FB group you can see our display with the link at https://www.facebook.com/100000615974900/videos/357509312547874/
There are lots of people who, without which, this event would never have gone ahead not least all the owners of venues we visited but members, such as Keith Masters, who just turned up and helped as well as in a big way David Brenchley, also an AROC member, who runs the engineering part of the K&ESR who put the last bits of a very large jigsaw together. But not least of all – you. The membership makes this all happen!